Thursday, January 7, 2010

Reading again

I've started reading again. I ran out of books about six months ago and have never found the time to go to Kinokuniya to get more. I kept thinking I'd find that copy of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five that has disappeared in my lounge. I suspect I've accidentally lent it to someone or it is languishing underneath the couch.

After procrastinating for such a long time I gave Haruki Murakami a go. I'd been put off by his chic minimalist covers, thinking that significant work could not possibly require such stylish covers - I was surprised. His work is very good. Leon proposed I start with Dance, Dance, Dance because that's the most linear and 'normal' out of all his novels.

It is enthralling.

His world is a Tokyo that I sort of know - I know the places, have been there and done similar walks to the protagonist. He 'shovels cultural snow', his term for writing commercial drivel, and made me wonder if I shovelled chemical snow for what I do for a living.

Dance, dance, dance describes a dreamlike world connecting all the unconnected parts of our world. A type of subconscious switchboard allowing us to make meaning out of meaningless acts in the real world. Murakami writes famously on themes of loneliness, isolation and alienation and some of his matter-of-fact descriptions are so poignant I almost cried:
There's nothing left here. Not one thing left for you.

I clamped my lips tight and stared at the bottle of soy sauce on the counter.

You live by yourself for a stretch of time and you get to staring at different objects. Sometimes you talk to yourself. You take meals in crowded joints. You develop an intimate relationship with your used Subaru. You slowly but surely become a has-been.
I don't know if it's because I'm currently living alone and take meals in crowded joints; however I don't own a car nor stare fixedly at mundane objects - I felt immediate connection to his descriptions of alienation and loneliness. He's described something I've felt at times but never been able to put my finger on. He's described what I feel others I know are going through.

Towards the end of the book he starts cooking more. This also inspired me, in fact it inspired tonight's dinner: Bacon and cherry tomato spaghetti; Tofu, sweet corn and lettuce salad with Japanese dressing.

The interconnectedness through the subconscious ethereal world is so all-permeating I start questioning my own world. Murakami introduces the father of a character, Hiraku Makimura - an anagram on his own name. I begin to wonder if the dreamscape he describes has started seeping into my own reality - I'm currently listening to an American-Japanese singer Hikaru Utada (Haruki, Hiraku, Hikaru).

Closing the book I'm too sensitive to the sounds of the night at 1:30am. The slightest clink could be a door in the hotel corridoor opening. The shush of curtains the shuffling of the Sheep Man's feet.

I hesitate opening my door. I'm afraid it will open out into blackness.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I met a woman who only ate because she got hungry. She said that if those bothersome unger pangs weren't there, she'd quite happily not eat a thing. Her usual lunch was a Kashi bar; a health food bar sold in the US.

I wish I could divorce myself from food like that. For then I would have that svelte physiqe and forever-out-of-reach six-pack that I've all but given up on. Unfortunately for me I eat:

  • When I feel happy; to celebrate

  • When I feel sad; to make me feel better

  • When I'm hungry; to feel satisfied

  • When I'm full; because I like the taste

  • When I'm lonely; to distract and comfort

  • When I'm with company; to share the occassion

In short, I eat whenever there's a reason to. I'm trying not to eat for no reason. I've flirted with restricted calorie, restricted carbohydrate and all sorts of modified diets. Usually I end up craving the very things I'm denying myself. On one of these I used to daydream of a big bowl of steaming white rice with two big tablespoons of gently melting butter on top. I imagined the cold hardness of the butter mingling with the warm melted unctuosness and coating the delicate soft white grains of rice. I'd get a hit of the saltiness, the perfume of the fragrant rice and feel the waft of moist steam against my face.

I used to find myself odd as I thought I was preoccupied with food. All the fitness magazines and diet advice never seemed to address the issue that some people actually like eating and it's an integral part of their life. I mean, it would dead easy to lose weight if all we needed to do was eat Kashi bars instead of real food. Incidentally, this woman was bone thin. The problem comes when we're somehow left feeling unfulfilled by our meal replacement snack bar. For us, our lives feel incomplete without eating a proper meal. It's trying to get that balance between eating with restraint for our physical health but still eating enough for our mental well-being.

Part of eating for mental-health also means eating things we feel and remember as 'food'. There used to be a common complaint amongst Westerners that Chinese food "never fills you up". In China, they're experiencing this with Western fast foods, which results in an increase in obesity rates. It's because both aren't eating food that they subconsciously think of as a 'real meal'. It's all just snacks in each other's slanted and round eyes, respectively.

Mireille Giuliano extends on the concept of eating 'real meals' in her series of books beginning with "Why French Women don't get Fat". She advocates sitting down and eating every meal with a knife and fork, preferably a napkin and a glass of wine for lunch and dinner.

I wonder if that advice is translatable to a Chinese housewife accustomed to eating with a bowl of rice and chopsticks? Could you imagine your chubby neighbourhood Auntie sitting down to eat with a knife, fork and napkin? I wonder if she'd still feel full without rice.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Premium Fat

Ralf and I sat at a mediocre-to-bad Japanese restaurant discussing the taste of the ludicrously expensive toro (belly tuna) we'd ordered. Our first time with this delicacy, I enjoyed the melting fat and the savoury protein.

We're eating Japanese on account of my "massive weight gain" over the Christmas break. It's supposed to be lighter and healthier, although deep-fried soft-shell crab and tempura aren't exactly Friends of the Waistline. We're munching away and I recoil at the greasiness of the crab - it's a mediocre-to-bad Japanese restaurant, remember. I complain to Ralf about how I'm despondent at my fat and he comforts me.

"Your fat is not the bad one. It's the good one."

I reply, "Where got good fat-wan? Fat is all bad, wat."

"No, your fat is the high quality one, mah. Premium Fat, hor?"

"Premium fat?? What is this Premium fat?"

"Premium fat like the tuna belly, lor. $80 for five pieces, must be premium mah."

I'm entirely amused by the concept of Premium Fat, for I possess it and I'm eating it at the same time. My fat is treasure, it's premium; like special issue bonds. Now if only I could sell it.

The Call of the Pink

There's a cake on our shared table at work: pink with soft, light whipped-cream icing and little rosettes at each wedge. It promises to taste of birthdays, celebrations and children's parties. I've already had a slice, but I want another one. I want to taste my childhood again, to reminisce through the Vaselined-lens of time.

The strawberries don't taste of much, but I'm not actually tasting these ones. I'm tasting the ones I remember. The ones on the Kellogg's cornflakes boxes; whoever thought of putting strawberries with cornflakes created an entire generation of people for whom the first taste of a strawberry was imagined, fantasised and built up for years before they actually had access to this (usually) air-freighted fruit from the West.

The cake is light but nothing special, really. I don't see balloons, streamers or fried noodles; hear the music for pass-the-parcel, musical chairs or statues. But the pink still lures me with its promises.

More Fat Fun

"You grow fat, already hor?" announced Iris, the woman who works the cash register at my office cafeteria.

"Really?" I was surprised. I'd been on a diet of Hydroxycut [caffeine supplements] and tofu (well, mainly) for the last few weeks.

"Ya! I see your shirt and belly; all fat already."

Slightly disturbed, I pay and only eat half my lunch (vegetables and a chicken stew - I don't eat rice at lunchtime).

The following day I brace myself for another assault on my physique. She adds up my bill and declares, "And one papaya [slice] right? I see your face and I know you want already." She's right. I did want a slice of papaya - I didn't know it at the time, but my obviously my face did, and she read it.

Back at my office I ask my boss's secretary something. She doesn't answer straightaway but then it starts.

"Wah, people saying you put on weight. Fatty hor? What you eat? All the sweet-sweet, fry-fry things, ah?"

I answer in my best Singlish, "Where got fat, leh? Where fat?" There's an edge of desperation in my voice as I plead for her to deny what she sees.

"There, lor. Your belly fat lah! You don't exercise, ah? Must exercise, don't eat all the sweet-sweet things."

"I'm not fat, and I do exercise," I tell her.

I'm annoyed now. Who are these "people" talking about my fat anyway?

The following day I'm extra hungry - maybe I'm rebelling - so I load up my tray with noodles, pumpkin and a deep-fried chicken wing. Out of nowhere my fairy godmother of anorexia pops up and admonishes, "Fat fat, hor."

[Note: This incident occurred sometime in Sept/Oct 2007 when I was in the midst of a creatine cycle. My increased bulk must have confused the ladies.]

Going home: Business Class

The woman checking the boarding passes at the gate stopped me. I thought "Oh no, what's happening." Apparently there was a seat change. Great, now I'll be shoved in the middle instead of the aisle where I wanted to be. I'm flying Qantas and my red boarding pass was changed for a black one.

I clear the queue and study my pass. It says "Business Class" - what's this about? Maybe they ran out of the normal forms so they're using the Business Class ones.

But dare I hope?

Well, it is. I'm quite excited. I get to turn left when boarding. The seats are grey and capsule-like. I try to act cool. Never mind that I'm worried that I won't know how to operate the tray table. Already I had to look behind me to find the plug for the super-comfortable noise-cancelling headphones. But I'm not the only one. My neighbour had to ask me where to plug his in.

Someone that looks like Billy Conolly sits to my right. Oh my god. Billy would travel Business, wouldn't he? He's also dressed in the most disheveled clothing possible. Of course the rich and famous do that - to remain inconspicuous of course. I mean, if you've that much money you can afford not to care about how you look sometimes.

The meal arrives and a white tablecloth unfurls over the tray table. It's a little bit over the top, since we're still eating with grey plastic knives (but metal forks). he menu is designed by Neil Perry (Rockpool) and the food is delicious. I have the Beef and Pancetta Lasagne. Also on offer is seared salmon with crushed white beans, basil pesto and lime.

I place my order for breakfast and hang it on the coathook, like they do in hotels.

After eating I watch a bit of Beowulf, but then recline my seat flat and have a snooze.

My neighbour turns out not to be Billy Conolly as he has an American accent. I think he's just a badly dressed American. I notice the others in Business and I think most of us in this section were bumped up from Economy. My neighbour to the left (headphone guy) certainly was. He must be as he's Australian, so going home, but didn't know where the headphone jack was. That is, he didn't travel business TO Singapore (or Frankfurt). We stick out a bit as we're the single travellers (young) and look like we're trying to look like we do this all the time. So far the tattoo artist pulls it off the best. He could be a rock star, you see (maybe he is?).

What makes it Wellington

Capturing my experience on film seems so inadequate. True, Wellington is exceedingly beautiful; breathakingly picturesque spots on the harbour, scenes of people enjoying public spaces (an urban developers dream-come-true), weird scruptures designed to showcase the exposed and gale buffeted shores. But all of this is mere backdrop to my remembrance of my hometown.

Do I feel 'at home'? Have I come home? Well, to be honest, no. I'm familiar with Wellington, I know my personal axes of Cuba St, Lambton Quay, City-to-Sea and Oriental Parade. But it is not home for me.

What makes it Wellington are the lack of crowds, the easier pace of life and the omnipresent wind; the tattoos on every second forearm, the grunginess of Cuba St and the disheveled hospitality staff.

Something about New Zealand brings out the best in people. I forgot my contact lenses and tried to buy some without a consultation (a bit of a no-no). I was prepared to pay $75 for one, just to get the free trial pack. As I walked out of the shop the optometrist, a young English girl, ran after me, thrust the free trial pack in my hands and said, "Here, just take these. Forget we said anything." I got five pairs for free, just enough to cover my time away.

I bought a smoothie from a juice bar and the girl making it overestimated the milk and yoghurt. So I got one-and-a-half cups. In Singapore I've seen the staff pour the excess down the drain rather than serve it to the customer.

I think it's being allowed the time to think, to reflect and to consider what's going on around you. The high level of education helps too. Yes, I know you don't need a degree to serve juice, but intelligent people can't help but think about stuff when bored behind a counter; sometimes with good results.